When Nautilus announced in November a partnership with Dick's Sporting Goods to pilot "shop-in-shops" in a selection of stores this winter, we were excited. Finally, not only an equipment manufacturer that was going to get into the merchandising game, but one that seemed to have the backing and product selection to do it well. We couldn't wait.
Sadly, sometimes dreams don't become the reality expected. On the heels of Dick's spectacular showing in October on Donald Trump's reality show, The Apprentice, we'd have to say that if Donald saw the Nautilus shops we saw, he'd stand up and shout, "You're fired." (Click here to see that story, "Trump's Apprentice puts spotlight on Dick's Sports and merchandising."
Announced as a test in 25 Dick's Sporting Goods stores across the country in a call with analysts, Nautilus was to display 11 SKUs in a merchandised display with the title, "Fitness that Fits." The display, as we understood it, would not only offer brochures with workout tips but also signage and the opportunity to see a good selection of Nautilus brands in one attractive place, set-up for easy perusal by the public.
The photo Nautilus sent us of one store looked impressive (See top photo to the right -- photos are not visible on the PDF News Digest but only at www.snewsnet.com.) We were beaming and gushing over the coolness of this kind of attention and in-store merchandising of fitness equipment. So, for fun, we sent a few SNEWSÂ® operatives into a selection of other stores (mostly placed in select higher socio-demographic areas) to see the reality in-person and witness how the staff dealt with someone looking around the section.
"If I hadn't been told what I was looking for ahead of time, I'd have had no idea this was a Nautilus concept shop," said one visitor, who wasn't even approached by a sales staff member in the 10-15 minutes he wandered the area.
"This is really poorly executed," said another visitor in a different part of the country, who found signs on the ground blocking machines and a salesman who told him to go to Bowflex.com to order a machine.
In our visits, we saw plenty of "oops" and "ouch." Brochures were sometimes scattered on the ground; signs had fallen over and were blocking machine access; the nice-looking display with "Fitness that Fits" emblazoned on it was hardly visible; the 10-by-20-foot area was so packed with equipment that a customer had to squeeze through and between and still had limited test ability; other equipment and brands were lined up on all sides to make any attempt for the area to stand out totally wasted; the rounded, silver support bars on the Nautilus display blended in too well with the equipment tubing; and the black carpet with orange lettering disappeared right into the stores' own walls and displays. (See the second and third photos to the right, which can be viewed at www.snewsnet.com.)
"To a normal customer, this would just not stand out as anything different or special," one of our undercover shoppers said.
But wait, there's more: The equipment in one store was dirty and dusty. In another, when a salesman was asked about information, our shopper was told, "All you get is what you have in your hands." The same salesman also shared that the store didn't really have enough merchandise to sell.
Said one of our undercover visitors: "Rather than showing a nice home fitness center in the space, this looks just like any other poorly merchandised sports store. It was packed tight with two Bowflex rigs, some Schwinn aerobic machines far removed from the rest of the cardio stuff, and two of the selector dumbbells. I suppose the floor mat and the sign are supposed to tell you this is a 'concept shop.' But they are largely hidden by all the other stuff like punching bags and inversion tables."
When SNEWSÂ® asked to talk to someone at Nautilus about the concept, its goal and whether anyone from the company was overseeing how they looked, we were told by a spokesman, "I am confident Nautilus will stick with what has been said â€“ 15 stores (sic), 11-12 products in a merchandised display called 'Fitness that Fits.' Suffice it to say, we view merchandising as part of the sales process."
Nautilus also told us not to expect Dick's to talk about the program. We tried several phone calls to two buyers, one of whom politely referred us to a lead buyer who returned one of our calls several days later only to tell us he would have to decline comment because he was not allowed to talk to the media. We were then referred to Jeff Hennion, senior vice president of marketing, and left him a voice message and an email, which were not returned by our deadline.
By the way, the Nautilus spokesman also said, as explanation to the reasoning behind the "Fitness that Fits" program at Dick's, "We believe that the (fitness) category is not well-merchandised (in general) and are putting our money where our mouth is."
SNEWSÂ® View: To quote our Nautilus spokesman, "suffice it to say," we really are extremely disappointed and that disappointment shoots straight back to Dick's. How can a chain with its reputation take a concept like this and, so it appears, drive it so far into the ground as to be nearly meaningless? Nautilus obviously sunk some money and time into the concept, display, design and delivery â€“ and honestly is getting zilcho bang for its bucko from what we saw. That's unfortunate since the fitness category direly needs some merchandising attention to help customers see how a piece will look in a home space. Granted, we didn't visit every store. What a shop looks like may truly depend on the management at each and how much attention each puts into it. We didn't get feedback from Nautilus to see if the company was overseeing any of the areas after they were installed. We didn't get feedback from Dick's management about whether staff or buyers were themselves overseeing the concept. For all we know, the management team decided on the project and just shoved it down the throats of the stores to do with as they could when perhaps they had no real space to do it justice. Perhaps more space was intended for the display, but high pre-holiday inventory jammed it up more than planned. Whatever happened, the intent was superior, while the realization was far from it. That's too bad. The concept could fly; heck, it could soar. But only with direct, intensive and constant supervision.